Caitlyn Love is the Marketing + Communications Specialist for Downtown Grand Junction. She contributed to the development of the city’s latest mode of transportation, The Dash, and continues to support it through marketing and promotion of the route. Community Builders is partnering with Downtown Grand Junction to update the Downtown plan of development through the Vibrant Together project.
Grand Junction, Colorado—a community of over 60,000, located in the Grand Valley of Western Colorado—has a lot going on these days. A booming university—home to well over 11,000 students, a Downtown with over 400 eateries, galleries, shops, and services, a growing number of individuals, families, and active retirees moving from the Front Range for “quality of life,” and a surrounding outdoor adventure mecca that’s receiving national attention. These “feathers in our cap” are just the tip of the iceberg for what’s to come in the area.
Solving the Problem of Connectivity
While these are great assets for the community, Grand Junction’s Downtown and 12th Street corridor were lacking an essential component: connectivity. The city needed a way to connect college students to Downtown, riders to the airport, and visitors staying right off the interstate to access the rest of town and any other combination of people and places that you can think of. So, a group of stakeholders that consisted of Downtown Grand Junction, Colorado Mesa University, Grand Valley Transit, City of Grand Junction, Horizon Drive Business District, and the Grand Junction Regional Airport joined forces to tackle the problem.
The solution: The Dash—a free, public transit service connecting community members and visitors to multiple destinations throughout Grand Junction.
It was discovered that The Dash shuttle was able to utilize existing resources within Grand Valley Transit and expand on the original GVT “Route 1 bus line.” The line runs from Downtown to the Airport by way of 12th Street, passing Colorado Mesa University and Horizon Drive.
Now that the route and free service were established, we had to make sure that people would actually ride The Dash. That’s where I came in.
Connection, With a “Cool Factor”
Being a graphic-loving, marketing-crazed person with my feet rooted in community and making spaces better, I found myself at an inspiring intersection. I asked, “How do we make this bus ‘cool,’ but also appeal to the different demographics riding it?’”
We had three very specific audiences to target:
1. Community Members
I further asked, “Are visitors from the Midwest going to find the same bus appealing that college students do?“ And, “Does the elder couple that has lived in Grand Junction since they were born relate to the same thing as a middle school kid riding the bus to summer camp?”
I found some surprising answers after sharing some initial sketches of the design of the bus with a select group of Colorado Mesa University senior students. For them, a key priority was about how the bus looked. Yet, it wasn’t just that The Dash was cool looking, (though, that was really important to them, too), but that it looked safe, clean, and approachable. These safety and security points that the college students made were important to me—and honestly, something that I hadn’t thought much about when conceptualizing a bus for the city.
Let me just add that we’re really lucky in Grand Junction, because our public transportation looks fine as it is. It’s simple, and residents recognize it when they see a bus go by. However, public transportation has often had a negative connotation and stereotype surrounding it. I remember being laughed at as a kid for riding the bus to school. It’s an age-old, well-worn pattern, and with The Dash, we had a chance to change that.
A “Cool Factor” That Gets Results
And we did. The Dash’s route is up 24% in ridership in comparison to the pre-existing “Route 1.” Maybe it’s because this route is now free during Dash hours—the first free public transit route in the Grand Valley. But I can’t help but think it’s approachability—from both its “cool factor” to its safe and welcoming feel—appeals to a wider demographic, making it a not-your-average public transportation bus.
The Dash is a success because it connects more people to the places they want to go. But, it does more than that. Because of our attention to design, The Dash represents an idea that Grand Junction has been known for since Operation Foresight: creativity. In the 1960’s, when other communities were moving toward pedestrian malls and shifting their energy from downtowns to shopping malls, Grand Junction took the creative initiative to revitalize Downtown and still maintain the business activity and traffic flow. The result was a complete revamp of Main Street with a winding, serpentine street. The Dash pays tribute to our creative past and present, and also gives businesses and organizations a way to plug into the promotion and marketing of the bus—“Dash Downtown,” “Dash to Applebee’s,” you get the point.
When we infuse connectivity with creativity, we can strengthen our public transit systems by making them more approachable, accessible, and appealing—to both locals and visitors, alike. As an integral part of our community, these modes of transportation naturally become a part of our identity. That means, in Grand Junction, we’re right on target. The Dash is an authentic expression of activity, quality, and creativity—qualities inherent to our community.